Posts Tagged ‘state property

18
Jul
10

The Alienation of Labor

A common question asked during the aftermath of every great industrial disaster is “Could all of this have somehow been avoided?”. It’s an important question too- ‘those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it’ and all that. Marx, who grew up and lived during a time when industrial accidents happened with tragic regularity, saw this and developed from it his theory of the ‘alienation of labor’.

Marx states that as businesses develop, those profiting from the sale of a product/service become further and further removed from the actual creation and creators of that product/service and as a result cease to see the workers creating the product/service as humans and instead merely see them as resources. When one starts seeing his fellow man as ‘profit-versus-cost’ rather than as human beings, it becomes a lot easier to exploit them.

If the owners of GAP actually had to meet with the child laborers in their sweatshops, it wouldn’t be nearly so easy for the owners to pay a mere forty-four cents as a day’s wages. It’s that basic human connection makes us see ourselves in the places of others. Maybe if things were different I’d be the one making t-shirts for forty-four cents. Maybe if things were different I’d have lost a hand working with dangerously outdated machinery.

Of course I say “it wouldn’t be nearly so easy”, because the simple truth of the matter is that better worker-owner relations aren’t the solution to the problem. You don’t get to be a leader of industry by being honest and generous and kind- relying on the benevolence of those who got to where they are in the world being more cunning, deceitful, and brutal than their fellow man doesn’t strike me as the wisest choice. The sad truth is that people will always be selfish and willing to take advantage of others.

And this is the crux of the matter. How do we deal with the problems of the alienation of labor and still deal effectively with the selfishness we find in human nature? The answer is public ownership.

Now we’ve discussed the issue of a Capitalist ignoring the plight of his workers even if he is (somehow) forced to meet with them on a regular basis, but what if we remove the element of private ownership? Suppose the factory is owned collectively by those operating it (and who better to run it than they)? Even if there are those there who, despite working alongside their fellow laborers- sharing the same burdens, the same rewards- still attempt to work solely for their own benefit, they’re not about to say “hey, we could be making more of this product/service if we work fourteen hours a day rather than ten!”. In a collective setting, the only way to benefit oneself is to benefit the whole- cooperation, not competition.

Imagine that the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig hadn’t been owned by BP but by the workers of the rig. Considering that they’re the ones who will be the most affected by a spill or accident, would they pass up an inspection to ensure their place of work is safe for them? How would they benefit by cutting corners? The same goes for any field of work.

Now no Marxist is going to claim that public ownership will bring an end to all avoidable industrial accidents or similar disasters. What we can state for certain is this:

Public ownership is (1) a more just system, (2) a more democratic system, (3) will give the power to avoid accidents to those who have the greatest potential to be affected by such accidents, (4) will shift focus away from profit to the welfare of the workers and the quality of the product/service, and lastly (5) will be infinitely more effective than either private or government ownership (why should someone who’s never set foot in a factory make decisions on how to best run it?).

It might not be a perfect system, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons.

07
May
10

Anarchism and Communsim

Communism is often depicted as a political system in which a faceless, oppressive state exerts almost unlimited control over the lives of the impoverished citizens. This of course isn’t even remotely close the society Marx (and other founders of Communism) called for or the sociopolitical-economic system Communists strive for. Such depictions are a result of generalizing Communism as a whole based on the actions of a certain group (imagine claiming Christianity calls for the ruthless extermination of those of differing religious views based on the participants of the Spanish Inquisition or crusades).

In much the same way Anarchism is commonly considered to be a political system (or lack thereof) in which riots take place in the streets, looters run free, and so forth. In reality Anarchy is a sociopolitical-economic system that attempts to do away with the concept of rulers and the state as a whole. The vilification of Anarchy is a result of propaganda that depicted Anarchists as dangerous maniacs. In reality, both Communism and Anarchism call for similar goals, the creation of a classless, stateless society based around the concepts of public property and community organization. In fact, during the mid 1800s, the terms “Communist” and “Anarchist” were interchangeable! Until 1872 Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin (the leading figures of Communism and Anarchism respectively) worked together.

So what went wrong?

The Communist/Anarchist split occurred as a result of differences in the opinion of which was the greater enemy, Capitalism or the state. The Anarchists argued that the primary goal of the revolution ought to be the abolition of the state, as opposed to the Communist argument that Capitalism was the true oppressor. Now these points of view were (and remain to be) by no means mutually exclusive. Anarchism, like Communism, calls for the institution of private property and community organization- just look at Russian Anarchist Peter Kropotkin who, in essay Economic Views of Anarchism wrote “…The Capitalist exploitation of labor, we must work for its abolition.” Communism, like Anarchism, calls for the abolition of the state- just look at Marx’s essay The Origin of Family, Private Property, and the State in which he claims “…The state… becomes also the politically dominant class, and thus acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class.”

So what’s the big difference?

Well the problem that Baukin and his followers saw with Marx’s theory was that focusing on the abolition of Capitalism may lead to the establishment of a new state in which the leaders of the revolution simply replace the overthrown state. Marx and the communists took issue with the fact that focusing on the abolition of the state would simply allow the wealthy and ruling classes to fill the void the state had left.

So who’s right, the Anarchists or the Communists?

Interestingly enough both sides’ concerns have been proven to have equal merit. Without abolishing the state, the Russian revolution quickly devolved into state-capitalism (what we would today call “Socialism”). Without abolishing private property, Capitalism, and the class system, abolishing the state is pointless- Capitalist oppression remains and may even be strengthened by the lack of a regulatory system.

So what it really comes down to isn’t a question of who’s right and who’s wrong. The Communist/Anarchist split shouldn’t be an either/or choice. Both sides are struggling for the same goal and both sides agree that both Capitalism and the state should be wiped out (though there different opinions about which to target first). Should this be something worth bickering over? Absolutely not. This is an opportunity to ensure that the mistakes of early Communist and Anarchist revolutions are not repeated. We worked together at the Paris Commune, we can work together today.

Long live the revolution.

05
Apr
10

The Political Spectrum

It seems that today whenever a right-wing or conservative pundit wishes to criticize the left they use the buzz word “Socialist”. Socialism is, of course, associated with big government and extensive (and invasive) government control of the general public (à la George Orwell’s 1984). Now the issue of simply calling something one doesn’t like about the political left “Socialist” (whether or not said something is actually Socialist or not) is that people have a basic misunderstanding of the socio-politico-economic spectrum. Just take this video by conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck, for example.

As you can see in the opening of the video, there’s a common misconception about the relationship between Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism. Despite the fact that Communism is often portrayed as a more authoritarian version of Socialism, the reality of the situation is that Communism is as detached from Socialism as it is from Capitalism. While both Socialism and Communism reject the Capitalist tenet of private property, Socialism espouses the concept of state property and Communism calls for the institution of public property. Allow me to illustrate.

In a Capitalist world everything is owned privately. “Item X” belongs to you and only you and cannot be taken away from you unless you give it away or trade for something better (though considering the purpose of Capitalism is to get as much “Item X” as possible, it isn’t very likely that you’d just hand it off). In a Socialist world everything would be owned by the state. “Item X” does not belong to you but to the government and only the government and how much you get of it is purely at the whim of the politicians. In a Communist world nothing belongs to anybody (or rather, everything belongs to everybody). “Item X” belongs to you as much as it does to your neighbors and must therefore be shared equally.

Now to this one might argue that while Socialism may advocate state property and Communism may demand public property, since both wish to bring about massive government control the results are the same. Again, the issue with reducing the political spectrum to a linear graph is that political control and economic control simply aren’t the same thing. You can have massive government and state property (Socialism) or massive government and Capitalism (Fascism) or no state control and Capitalism (Objectivism/Libertarianism/Anarcho-Capitalism/etc.) or not state control and public property (Communism/Anarchism/Anarcho-Communism/etc.) or anything in between.

In short, while making the connection between Socialism and Communism is a common mistake, it has be understood that it’s a mistake nonetheless, and only serves in propagating a false understanding not only of Socialism and Communism, but of Capitalism as well.

26
Jun
09

[R]education

The philosopher Plato once stated that “there shall be compulsory education, as the saying is, of all and sundry, as far this is possible; and the pupils shall be regarded as belonging to the state rather than to their parents…”. Plato makes in interesting point and the underlying principle (good education for everyone) is commendable, Plato makes a serious yet common error when he claims that the student belongs to the state.

Communism demands the reverse.

Granted, the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, and contemporary North Korea have all followed Plato’s ideal of the student (and to varying degrees, the individual) as property of the state. However, as has been repeatedly stated throughout this blog, those countries have merely disguised themselves as Communist states, while in reality functioning as semi-Socialist dictatorships. Communism requires the opposite. The public does not belong to the state- the state belongs to the public. The same goes for the education of students.

Now this might seem like a slightly abstract concept, after all, “public schools” are schools that belong to, and are funded by, the state. What then is the difference between Marxism’s “public education” and our contemporary “public school system”? The answer is simple: the presence of private schools. In the US, we have private property, state property, and public property. The mere presence of public property does not mean that we live in a Marxist system where all property belongs to the public. The same is true for education. Do we have public education? Yes. Does that mean everyone has access to public education? Yes. Do we have private education? Yes. Does everyone have access to private education? Absolutely not.

“So what’s the issue?”, one might wonder, “Everyone has access to a basic level of education no matter what they’re social standing is!”. That’s true, however, one must remember the emphasis on the word basic. Like most things in life, the cheaper something is, the less quality it has. A decent private school can charge and exorbitant fee in exchange for offering an excellent level of education. More money, more profit, more supplies, more (and better) teachers, and so on. Public schools are, quite simply, low quality, and in a world where education determines one’s career, quality is everything. Take the examples of Mr. Hammer and Miss Sickle.

Mr. Hammer is born into a moderately wealthy family. As a child he has the best education private schools have to offer- well funded and well trained athletic teams, a school library excellently stocked, motivated, intelligent teachers, and so on. Coming from such a brilliant school and having high grades (and still wealthy parents), getting into a prestigious (and very expensive) college is easy. After completing college, Mr. Hammer is able to get an exciting and high-paying job (which will eventually make him wealthy and allow him to send his children to a good private school, starting the cycle all over again).

Miss Sickle, however, is born to the lower classes. Her family cannot afford to send her to anything other than public school. She studies hard and does decently and even manages to get herself a few scholarships however she never able to reach her full potential (Miss Sickle being interested in chemistry and the best her school has to offer in that field is a poster of the periodic table and a few vials of ammonium). As a result, Miss Sickle is unable to gain access to any decent college and having never attained a university degree, spends the rest of her life working as waitress in a roach-infested diner.

Did Miss Sickle commit some kind of crime to deserve a life of carrying plates from one side of a room to the other? Was she somehow not as hard of a worker as Mr. Hammer was? Is she somehow to blame for the way her life turned out? Of course not. Miss Sickle was born poor and didn’t happen to be enough of a genius to get into a decent college free. And what about Mr. Hammer? Did he, as a six year old, toil long hours to pay his way through the first grade? Was he somehow a “better” person and more deserving of a higher education? Again, no. Mr. Hammer was born to the wealthy and because of that, managed to get ahead in life. He didn’t work harder than Miss Sickle- if anything, he probably had it easier. Where’s the justice in any of this? Two people work with the same amount of effort and have the same levels of intelligence and yet one becomes a millionaire and the other lives off of tips and minimum wage. Imagine if we applied this system- our education system- to the Olympic games. In a race, all the athletes are lined up side-by-side. The gold goes to the contestant who is- in all simplicity the fastest runner. Now imagine if we had the Olympic games in the same way we have our education system. Some runners would be, at the beginning of the race, hundreds of feet in front of the regular starting line and others would have to start hundreds of feet behind. Those behind are forced to run almost three times as fast as the runners up ahead. Yes, they can run that far- but keep in mind, there are only so many medals. Would that be an event people would watch? Would it be called a fair game? No, people would call it a travesty! Why then do we accept an education system where people don’t lose gold, but the very quality of their lives?

An advocate of Capitalism might argue that life just isn’t fair- that the world’s a jungle where the only fittest survive to pass their genes (or wealth) on. If that’s true, then why would the same people prosecute a thief for stealing someone’s wallet? Surely the thief was more “fit” than the person who lost his wallet- isn’t the thief simply being a good Capitalist by gaining money with little or no cost to himself in time, effort, and resources? This would be as ridiculous as an Olympic race where one contestant wins by shooting his competitors in the knees.

“So what’s the solution?” a person might ask, “Are we to penalize the children of the wealthy by lowering their quality of education until it’s on the same level as the poorest person in the country?”. Of course not. What Marxism calls for is a single system of education where anyone can get the education of his choice, not the choice of his parent’s bank account. Does this mean every school would teach the same things out of the same textbooks? Not at all. If anything, diversity would be encouraged. If one school wishes to take a certain perspective on life and a different school wishes to teach a different view, then they should be allowed it. The student gets to choose which he prefers and, provided he pulls his own weight in society, may study for as long as he chooses. Imagine every individual given an opportunity to have the highest quality education free of charge! Imagine what society would be like if everyone had the option to attain an extra four years of college without having to worry about affording it! Imagine a world where the education system belongs to the students, instead of the students belonging to the education system!

Perhaps Ali Ibn Abu-Talib said it best; “There is no wealth like knowledge; no poverty like ignorance…”

11
Jun
09

Government Motors?

There’s been a lot of talk recently on the government takeover of GM. Some, such as members of the Obama administration, believe that this will save jobs and- eventually- revitalize the company. Others, such as Fox News’s Glen Beck, claim that this is an abomination and an “attack on Capitalism”.

So what is it really? Good? Bad? Apocalyptic? An attack on Capitalism or the US constitution?

From a Communist point of view, it’s hard to say.

We can determine that a government takeover, with the consent of the owners of the company (as is the case with GM, is not a breach of the Constitution. Those who would claim otherwise could technically claim that this is an infringement on the right to free enterprise, but considering that GM was handed over willingly, this would be a hard position to argue from. Apocalyptic? Hardly. Nowhere in any world religion is government ownership of car companies listed as a sign of the end of the world.

That leaves good or bad, and as I’ve said, it’s not easy to tell which is right.

From a Communist perspective, the government takeover has saved thousands of jobs for autoworkers- a good thing. At the same time, this decision was made more or less without the consensus of the public- a bad thing. All in all, we now have a government-owned car company, something that could be either good or bad- predicting which is going to be hard.

On one hand, state-ownership of transport hasn’t proven detrimental for many countries. On the contrary, state-ownership has often been beneficial for countries, providing an inexpensive form of transport for the general public. At the same time, we must keep in mind that this isn’t about taxis, busses, and trains- this is about cars. How will the government (or at least, a company heavily influenced by the government) make private cars? Again, it’s hard to say. Some postulate that a new generation of fuel-efficient “green” cars will be created, others claim that a car created by committees and bureaucrats will be costly and inefficient. All in all, the Communist perspective is more or less neutral, since this is neither an attack on Capitalism or a movement towards Communism.

It does, however, raise an important point in the difference between Communism and Socialism: the difference between public and state property.

Now one must remember that originally, Socialism referred to the socio-political aspect of Marxism (Communism referring to the economic-political aspect). However, like many words, the definition of “Socialism” has changed dramatically. Currently, Socialism is used to refer to a “middle-ground” between Capitalism and Communism. Essentially, Socialism is an economic system where large portions of the economy are owned or controlled by the state. Too often, this is confused with Communism- largely due to the USSR and other pseudo-Communist states replacing private property with state property, rather than public property. Simplified, the differences can best be explained by an example using land. In the US, there are three types of land-ownership, private, state, and public. Private property (in regards to land) is land owned purely by a single person for that person’s own use. State property is property which belongs solely to the state and whatever sub-department the land is run by. Public property is property that belongs to everyone, for whatever (legal) use chosen (streets and roads, for example, are public property). With GM, the US moves towards Socialism not Communism (though since the US government tends to regulate, rather than own, the US remains primarily Capitalist). There are even some who blame the fall of the Soviet Union not on corruption and dictatorship but on the fact the private property was turned into state property, rather than public property, as demanded in Marx’s works.

In short, even if the US is moving towards Socialism (and it still has a long, long way to go before that happens), it is important to keep in mind that this does not mean the US is moving towards Communism.

05
Jun
09

Communism Defined

“Communism”.

The word will probably conjure to mind apocalyptic visions of Orwellian police states and brutal suppression of dissidents. Sadly, this was indeed true of the Soviet Union and- to this day- China and North Korea. However, before one judges Communism according to the actions of these countries, let us examine whether or not these countries met what the founding fathers of Communism defined their system as.

Both of these allegedly Communist countries have been known for being dictatorships, yet Marx defines a Communist country as a “dictatorship of the proletariat” (i.e. pure democratic rule). Both of these allegedly Communist countries have had clear social classes, with both the extremely rich and extremely poor. Marx, however, sets down in his Manifesto that a Communist society will be one devoid of any class other than the proletariat (working class). Both of these allegedly Communist countries have had individuals with large amounts of private property, particularly in China, where privatization is rampant. Marx, on the other hand, describes a Communist society as having abolished private property.

And the list goes on, ranging from political issues to economic subjects to questions of personal freedoms and responsibilities, and in almost every aspect, Marx’s description of Communism and the reality of so-called “Communist” countries are diametrically opposed. In short, these countries have merely masqueraded under the facade of Communism, while in reality functioning as semi-socialist dictatorships. For that reason, one could no more blame Communism for the atrocities committed by the Soviet and Maoist regimes than one could blame Christianity for the horrors of the Crusades or Spanish Inquisition. Despite its depiction, Communism was not the USSR. Communism is not contemporary China or Cuba or North Korea.

So what is Communism then?

Marx, in his Communist Manifesto, defines Communism as a society where (1) private property is abolished in favor of public property, (2) the class system is abolished and a single, democratic class system is created instead, and (3) each individual works according to his or her talents for the greater good of the community in exchange for the community taking care of the individual’s needs. No reference to totalitarianism, work-camps, or nuclear weapons, imperialist expansion, or brutal oppression or any of the things commonly associated with Communism is included.

Nevertheless, Communism is still widely feared. For some- those who have experienced the so-called “Communism” of the USSR, China, North Korea, and Cuba- it is quite understandable why they would look down on Communism and its advocates (though as understandable as it is, it still isn’t right).

For others, ignorance is the source of their fear, being unaware of the difference between the Soviets/Maoists/Etc. and Communists. Once again, without knowledge of the difference, their fear is understandable (though not right).

However, there are those who are fully aware of what Communism truly is and yet still fear it. But how can someone who is fully aware that Communism advocates democracy, equality, and the abolition of class and property be afraid? It can only be that these people have something to lose. The dictator loses his power, the wealthy and elite lose their position and luxury.

These people have every right to be afraid of Communism.